Ivan W. Parkins


To order Dr. Parkins book,

 Perspectives For American Society  




©Ivan W. Parkins 2009,  All articles, text, web pages property of Ivan W. Parkins.  Use of any material requires permission of the

author and can be obtained by contacting, info@americanpoliticalcommentary.com

About Ivan W. Parkins:

Dr. Parkins is a retired professor of Political Science from Central Michigan University.  He received his PhD from the University of Chicago and is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy.  Dr. Parkins served as a naval officer during WWII aboard the battleship Alabama.  He is a recent widower with three daughters, 3 grand children and 2 great grand children.  Dr. Parkins has written extensively, having authored 3 books and a newspaper opinion column for many years. 

Front Page




By Ivan W. Parkins


     The Constitution of the United States, prior to changes, some in practice and others added more formally, provided for some things quite similar to the unwritten constitutions of our European forefathers.  The Chief Executive was to be chosen by electors, much as some European monarchs were.  Members of a Senate (nobles) were chosen by state legislatures.  And Representatives were popularly selected, but from what was then a quite limited group of qualified voters.  Those distinct methods of selection provided some reason for believing that the old concept of balance would apply here also.


     What we have seen since 1789 are numerous changes in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence’s “all men are created equal.” Now, nearly all adult citizens, and some not so adult, are eligible to vote.  And, all three elective branches of our central government are chosen by only slightly different popular processes.  Furthermore, we expect all branches to represent “the people.”


      Actually, while our population remained much smaller and more agricultural, while the vast oceans to our east and west remained formidable barriers to major enemies, and while our economic and political relationships with the rest of the world remained minimal, the traditional system worked well enough.


     Today, and since the beginning of the twentieth century, those conditions are much changed.  Industrialization, plus the easy and safe travel and the instantaneous communication that have accompanied it, make us far more of a player in nearly every portion of the world.  Meanwhile, we have greatly advanced the technical means by which “the people” can speak to power, but failed to make comparable improvements in the institutions and procedures by which such communication is received and registered.  I.W.Parkins 22809



By Ivan W. Parkins


      Our economic crisis?  No, I’m referring to our constitutional system.


       We owe some of the vision, plus most of the words and syntax in our Constitution to Gouverneur Morris.  He was the most frequent speaker in the Constitutional Convention.  As a member of the committee assigned to draft one document from numerous motions and amendments to motions, he created one concise and mostly coherent summary in just a few days. Morris (Gouverneur is his name and was never a title.) had many talents to offset his funny name, withered arm, and wooden leg.  He is now a too little appreciated Founding Father.


      Those among us who seek to attribute their check and balance theories to the Constitution will find little explicit evidence in the document.  Nor will they find a lot more in THE FEDERALIST commentaries expounding upon it.  There are some checks in the legislative process and in that for treaty ratification.  But, in 1787 the concept of balance in constitutions had, for more than two millennia, applied chiefly to the representation of several social classes in separate branches of the government—and not as equals.  King, Lords, and Commons is now the most familiar example.


       At least from the time of Roman Tribunes, and extending through some European monarchies, it was the executive who was expected to protect all of a nation’s subjects.  In colonial America, and other parts of the British Empire, abuse of native peoples was often by white settlers and done in violation of orders from the Crown or its Governors. Something similar continued after America gained its independence, but not enough central authority to really maintain the peace.  It may explain in part Alexander Hamilton’s contention that energy in the executive is the measure of good government.


        Yes—even the mention of Hamilton often raises some popular notions of “elitism.”  That is ironic; Hamilton was a “bastard,” grew up an orphan, and became one of the few Founders who worked actively against slavery.  It’s just one small part of the maze that is our national history, as it too often has been simplified for popular consumption. I.W.Parkins 22709






     Controversies over our chief executives are older than the United States.  Governors of the several original colonies were selected in a variety of ways, but increasingly by Royal appointment.  One original step in the war for independence was replacing the Royal Governors.  Popular confidence rested mainly in the legislatures.  As new state constitutions were adopted, many gave to Governors terms of only two years and those years with only minimal powers.  But, with legislatures in session only a small part of the time, realities soon intervened.  Who could react effectively to an Indian raid, or to a new trade barrier raised by a neighboring state?


     Fortunately for both the design and the initial performance of the office, George Washington was the obvious choice for our first President.  Also fortunate was the fact that Gouverneur Morris, who had had a major role in creating the constitution of New York and its strong executive, was able to do much the same thing for the nation.  Article II of The Constitution of The United States assigns to the President broad powers and imposes few limits other than his term of office.  Now, it has generally been those Presidents who used their powers boldly who have become our greatest political heroes.  Often they have, in fact, served as tribunes of the people.


     John Locke, a favorite authority of our forefathers, says in his Second Treatise on Civil Government:

      “ Many things there are that the law can by no means provide for, and those must     necessarily be left to the discretion of him who has the executive power in his hands, to be ordered by him as the public good and advantage shall require;”  I.W. Parkins 22709


By Ivan W. Parkins


     None of the above page says much about any particular President or about how particular Presidents should be judged.  I hesitate to judge the incumbent before he has even had time to adjust his vision to his new role.  In that regard, I note that President Truman, questioned about why he, after voting in the Senate against civil rights legislation, chose to order integration of federal services, both civil and military.  Truman replied that he had acquired a new and broader constituency.  I remain hopeful that President Obama will do similarly.


      I am exceedingly skeptical of the capacity of Congress to improve upon executive leadership.  For one reason I note that not so long ago a Republican President (Nixon), who seemed to be winding down a war to our nation’s benefit, and who had just been reelected by what is still the largest popular plurality of votes in the nation’s history, was driven from office by a heavily Democrat Congress and information media.   I note also that the following three Congresses, little restrained by executive leadership, were Democrat by margins of 119 or more votes in the House and 17 of more votes in the Senate.  In that period the Community Reinvestment Act, encouraging sub-prime mortgages, plus major new limits on our intelligence and military services were enacted.  Several of the participants in those congressional actions are now committee chairmen in this Congress.


       Our information media now show some signs of less partisan blindness.  Will the media now aid in assuring us that changes are for the better?  I.W. Parkins 22609

 We know what happened to President Nixon, but how much do we know about why?


     Nixon resigned rather than risk a bitter and nationally divisive impeachment fight, which it appeared that he would lose.  Chief among the charges pending against him was abuse of power.  And, one of the most substantial items in that charge was that he had impounded i.e. refused to spend, about half of the funds which Congress had appropriated for Senator Muskie’s Clean Water Act.  Even the Supreme Court held against the President in that matter.

      Years later, it occurred to me that there should be new evidence re that charge.  I checked THE STATISTICAL ABSTRACT for what we actually did spend.  With Nixon out of the way, we spent just about what he had recommended.


St. Petersburg Times, 2/23/90, St. Petersburg, Florida


Re: “Gorbachev borrowing U.S. model for democracy,” Feb. 12, by David Broder



     Let us hope that Chairman Gorbachev understands what he borrows.  For instance, many discussions of presidential-congressional conflicts terminate in citations of our traditional check and balance system.  But, in 34 years of teaching American Government I never encountered a good analysis of what the word “balance” means in the context.  It is my opinion that “balance” is chiefly a euphemism, added by commentators after the Constitution was adopted and not really descriptive of how our system works.


     During the two millennia of Western political thought from Aristotle through Montesquieu to John Adams, “balance” referred to a balance of the social classes, each represented in a different branch of government.  No doubt, that concept was relevant to the diverse ways in which offices of our several federal branches were originally filled.  Now, however, we elect presidents and senators as well as representatives, and we expect all branches to represent all classes of people.


     Very little use was made of the word “balance” by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay in THE FEDERALIST.  That term does appear in my copy, but chiefly in remarks and subtitles added by later editors.


     Does “balance” really help one to understand how our system works, or is it a euphemistic term for what is actually a check and checkmate system?

Editors Note:

Dr. Parkins’s Grandson, Breton W. Hinkle, passed away unexpectedly on Feb. 14, 2009.  His wife Jen, is a wonderful woman, whom he loved with all his heart.  He was a graduate of Michigan State University.  Bret was a United States Marine and had faithfully served his country with honor and distinction.   He will be terribly missed  by family and friends.  He was loved by all who knew him.  He was  buried with military honors in Holland, MI.   This issue is dedicated to him.

See Bret’s life story at http://www.lifestorynet.com/memories/45526/